Argus Report: FBI opens up 2nd public corruption task force, “public fed up with corruption,” says FBI’s Gillies
Florida: Republican Party spending habits continues, junior staffer racks up $1.3 million in AX charges, not all hers
Miami-Dade County: Commission discussion on PHT oversight slow going, everyone has an opinion, powers of 25A almost enough as it is
Broward County: Geller and Gunzburger will face off for commission Dist. 6 seat; voters should expect political fireworks
Palm Beach County: County woman charged with preparing fraudulent income tax returns
Pinellas County: Two sentenced after three county car chase in Nov. 2009
Leon County: Gov. Crist appointed Robert R. “Rob” Wheeler of Tallahassee to County Court.
Miami-Dade Public Schools: District opens new TERRA Environmental Research Institute April 21
Public Health Trust: Vice Chair Medina says there was no attempt to “restrict access” for attendees at the Ad Hoc Financial Sustainability Restructuring Committee
City of Miami: Atty. Bru takes a 17 % cut in salary, total savings across board $176,000 over next two-years, says Commissioner Suarez after negotiations
City of Miami Beach: State prisoners spotted cleaning-up causeway, shows financial state of Florida
City of Doral: Clerk Herrera and others get ethics advocate warning letter, after Rubio fundraiser e-mail
Community Events: Friends of the Japanese Gardens and the City of Miami Department of Parks and Recreation Present — HARU MATSURI (Spring Festival)
Editorials: PAST WDR: OCT 2005: What is it about some people in Miami-Dade who believe only they should serve on a board or in a position? — Government courtesy dashboards given to civilians on community boards should not be abused, for they also can be a government liability if something happens
Letters: Reader on the Watchdog Report and my health
Sponsors – Publisher’s mission statement & Subscription information is at the bottom of this issue
>>> Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you. –Pericles (430 B.C.)
>>> The Watchdog Report publisher would like to thank the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation www.knightfoundation.org for funding the University of Miami’s Knight Center of International Media http://knight.miami.edu within the University’s School of Communication www.miami.edu assistance to rebuild my web site www.watchdogreport.net that is now on line again, since the previous one was shut down in July 2008. Past reports will continue to go on line in the future, potentially as far back as May 2000. This institutional support is a major break through for me, and I am deeply appreciative of the help these two substantial international institutions have given me at a time the site was an unbudgeted expense and to keep the Watchdog Report a community education resource, while also being a decade old news service.
>>> I will be on Topical Currents on WLRN/NPR 91.3 FM, May 5 and it will be the 11th anniversary of the Watchdog Report and readers should listen in.
>>> If you think it is important to have someone watching your public institutions consider becoming a supporter or sponsor. For there is no trust fund and I do have to live. A convenient form is at the bottom of this week’s Watchdog Report with all the instructions on how to support this decade old newsletter and news service soon to start its 11th anniversary on May 5.
ARGUS REPORT – Heard, Seen on the Street
>>> FBI opens up 2nd public corruption task force, “public fed up with corruption,” says FBI’s Gillies
A Thursday press conference at Miami police headquarters downtown announcing the arrests of some officers and city staff, and the removal of a number of senior administrators continues to highlight South Florida’s fight against political corruption and incompetence. John Gillies, the Special Agent in Charge for the FBI said in his travels since arriving here last year from “Ft. Pierce to the Keys.” He said “the public is fed up with corruption” and he is pursuing a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to these wayward public officials. Gillies, a 27-year veteran with the agency said he has “opened a second public corruption task force” and he has around 460 special agents in his South Florida field office. He also thanked the public for the numerous “tips” about illegal activity and noted most law enforcement is doing their job “honestly”. He thanked his own federal agents for their work and “major commitment” to the “tough job” saying fighting “corruption matters” if a community is to be vibrant with politically healthy public officials and institutions watching over Americans taxpayer dollars and how these monies are being spent.
>>> What about the U.S. Southern District of Florida?
The Watchdog Report has been reporting on the local federal district since 2000 and I have watched many elected leaders and public servants go down either through the state attorney’s office, the federal authorities or both and it should be a wake-up call for politicians that it is not only the authorities that can cause trouble. For citizens and residents are not potted plants and with the proliferation of cell phones and other cameras proliferate and these can easily document political leaders activities and any wayward transgressions. Further, it is not only public corruption that has had Gov. Charlie Crist suspend 36 elected officials since he took office in Jan. 2007, roughly one a month but fraud and a wide variety of other crimes have been associated with Florida elected officials. R. Alex Acosta, the former U.S. attorney when I asked about all the Medicare and Medicaid fraud that topped $1.1 billion over a 13-month period said yes at the time, “We are the graduate school for fraud.”
What about state and federal investigations?
State attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle (Net worth $1.34 million) is challenging a couple of the people arrested Thursday and in the media claims, the acts did not rise to criminality. However, the Miami Police Chief said a judge believed there was probable cause and signed the arrest warrant for the men who worked with a local community based organization. Further, there is a real difference between how the state prosecutors and federal agents work in many ways. Many of the state investigations are based on documents and peoples testimony, but the idea of offering money like in some of the federal stings is out of the question, since there is no spare money said one state attorney source. But for the federal agents, they have the financial resources to troll and see if someone is tempted to be brought over to the dark side and these individuals usually end up with a federal plea deal after they have been busted.
>>> Press release: Zogby Interactive: Most Support Stronger Regulations on Big Banks, Taxing Them To Pay Back Bailouts 63% Say Government Not Responsible for Insuring Big Banks Don’t Fail
Legislative proposals to regulate financial institutions and limit their size have the support of a majority of likely voters, including 55% who favor a tax on large banks to cover any government losses from bailouts. Those are among the findings of a Zogby Interactive survey of 3,351 likely voters conducted from April 1-3, 2010. The survey has a margin of error of +/-1.7%. The survey also found that 63% do not agree that the federal government has a responsibility to insure that big banks do not fail and only 33% said they had confidence in the Federal Reserve to enforce regulations on the nation’s financial institutions. Please click the link below to view the full news release on our website: http://www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.cfm?ID=1845
>>> I wanted to thank the over dozen people and organizations that have sent me money over the past weeks and it was more than appreciated and you will each hear back from me by mail in the future. Thank you for the support. The report is also shorter and with less real content because I am still weak and do not have my past energy level that allowed me to write all day Saturday and Sunday as in the past almost 11-years that I have been doing this. I ask for my readers understanding during this time. >>> Further, I have been honored over the years by being named a WFOR-4 Hometown Hero in 2000, being profiled in a major way by The Miami New Times, The Miami Herald, and the Orlando Sentinel which ran as a nationwide story on me in the Tribune papers on Jan. 2003 and UNC Chapel Hill naming me one of the top columnists in Florida in a multi-state study of the media back in 2004. I also thank Joseph Cooper for the opportunity to be on Topical Currents on www.wlrn.org since 2000, including yearly election coverage since then and also the opportunity to be on Helen Ferre’s show Issues on firstname.lastname@example.org numerous times over the past decade.
>>> PAST WDR: I have been in the hospital after emergency surgery, one more procedure to go, need the community’s financial help to keep at this!
I have not communicated or sent out a Watchdog Report since the end of January because I had a catastrophic medical issue that required one emergency surgery and another in a few weeks after about two months of convalescing at the hospital and home. I would like to thank surgeon Jorge R. Rabaza, M.D., (Recently honored and awarded the Person of the Year at South Miami Hospital) and the rest of his vascular surgery team of Verdeja, Rabaza, Gonzalez, P.A., who practice at South Miami Hospital (http://www.miamihope.com/doctors/index.asp.). I went to the emergency room Feb. 8 and later in the evening, the operation was done, and it was touch and go. I also want to thank all the nursing and support staff located in the forth floor annex of the hospital who took care of me for over a week after the operation and your kind manner and medical attention was deeply appreciated. I have not had the strength and mental clarity to write until the last few days and to say I need a miracle is an understatement regarding my financial survival. I have been unable to send invoices to past supporters and just paying my rent currently is a big deal and hope you will consider doing what you can to keep me out in the field and reporting back after I get back on my feet and I am feeling better. The support form is at the bottom of this truncated issue for your convenience and if high definition transparency of what your public institutions are doing is important to you. Please help and support me financially during this particularly rough patch. >>> Editor’s note: If you see people that represent these two organizations, let them know you appreciate how they helped me keeping this free news resource out in our community for all to read if desired.
>>> FURTHER, THERE WILL BE NO Watchdog Report for THE NEXT FEW WEEKS AND I HOPE TO BE BACK FOR THE 11TH ANNIVERSARY ISSUE.
>>> See what was said about the Watchdog Report in the Miami New Times 2003 — Best of Miami — BEST CITIZEN — Daniel Ricker –
Three years ago, we said Ricker was our Best Gadfly. Given his dedication and perseverance, this new honor, Best Citizen, is well deserved. Ricker goes to 2500 mind-melting meetings annually, from the Public Health Trust’s purchasing subcommittee to the Efficiency and Competition Commission to the Alliance for Human Services’ nominating council to the school board’s audit committee. Sometimes he’s the only public observer. Object: to be the Public Citizen for all those out there who can’t attend, and to connect and serve as an information bridge among the special-interest-dominated Miami-Dade governmental institutions that seem so problematic and indifferent to the democratic process
This month his e-mail newsletter, The Watchdog Report, celebrates its fourth anniversary. In a former life Ricker made a handsome living as an international salesman of heart pacemakers. As the hard-working publisher of Watchdog Report, though, he’s struggling financially — this despite the fact that his weekly compendium of meeting summaries, analysis, interviews, and commentary has become essential reading for anyone involved in public affairs. What his written work may lack in polish, it more than makes up for in comprehensiveness. So raise a toast to the man whose official slogan says it all: “A community education resource — I go when you cannot!”
>>> Republican Party spending habits continues, junior staffer racks up $1.3 million in AX charges, not all hers
The Republican Party of Florida is reeling www.miamiherald.com from new revelations that a junior staffer had $1.3 million in charges, using a card not under her total control but the news is a body blow to the party’s state organization with the upcoming primary and general elections in November. The staffer Melanie Phister, then 25 when she had the job is now working in a staff position in the House and on the card she blended all kinds of charges including a trip to Europe. The paper quotes Republicans as being ‘apoplectic’ about the mess and the amount on the party’s American Express Card and it just continues the turmoil for senior party officials who are trying to gear up for the elections.
What about the state Democratic Party races?
While state Republicans are licking their self inflicted wounds it remains to be seen if Democrats will necessarily benefit since both parties faithful are not as energized for the 2010 election that has all the cabinet positions up in the air. However, Democrats have rarely projected a united front when it comes to many of the anointed candidates the party runs, many times after a tough primary. Further, the Republican majority legislature has passed a bill, (SB 6), that is sending state educators, teachers and parents over the moon and Gov. Charlie Crist (Net worth $466,000) is mulling over what to do with the contentious new legislation and whether to veto the law. Crist is still trying to get back into the U.S. Senate primary that has him trailing former House Speaker Marco Rubio (Net worth $8,351) for the race in August and Crist is lagging the 39-year old for the first time in fundraising for a quarter, though overall Crist’s war chest is larger at over $7 million.
>>> Commission discussion on PHT oversight slow going, everyone has an opinion, powers of 25A almost enough as it is
A Thursday marathon commission meeting discussion concerned what to do with the Public Health Trust, its board and administration that is looking at a $229 million budget hole that is trying to be plugged through a massive restructuring of the almost $1.8 billion public health system. Four commissioners have introduced ordinances offering a variety of new oversight plans that will be refined into one when certain conditions trigger such an event, such as the trust not being able to make payroll would have the commission get more involved. However, the extended Thursday afternoon discussion also showed the wide variety of opinions on how to address the looming financial challenges that the current administration and the health trust board are trying to resolve.
Commissioner Natacha Seijas (Net worth $655,000) at the meeting said she has no beef with the PHT board, it is “with the administration” she has lost confidence with. Commissioner Katy Sorenson noted the county commission already had the power to make major changes of the trust governance, including the removal of incumbent trustees for a variety of reasons for “cause.” Commissioner Javier Souto, a voting PHT board member who sponsored a resolution calling for state agencies like ACHA to get involved, which was later withdrawn, said the body should hear from Chris Mazzella, the county’s inspector general whose office had done some critical reports on the PHT over the years. Further, Souto was going to speak his mind and at one point he refused to stop speaking that had Commission Chair Dennis Moss (Net worth $477,000) calling for everyone on the dais to settle down.
The commission Committee of the Whole will be meeting in the future to thrash out any further legislation and its specificity but the health trust is under county management watch, and Mayor Carlos Alvarez and George Burgess said they would be on top of the situation that will likely include some county employees working at the health trust campus.
>>> Commissioners and Mayor’s administration have verbal rumble on budget “tweaks” Souto says are getting out of hand
There has been an ongoing tension between the county commission and Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s (Net worth $1.66 million) administration over the past few years since a strong mayor form of government was approved by county voters and it is much like one sees at the state and national level. Last week commissioners had an extensive discussion regarding how the administration makes budget adjustments in the course of the budget year that ends Sept.30. When commissioners hammered Manager George Burgess about the internal funding changes that in this case was to end the popular Boot Camp program he said the administration takes the budget adjustment issue very seriously and you “don’t want us to end the year with a large cash deficit,” he noted. He also reiterated that the commission will face “face tough [budget] choices” in the coming budget year discussions in September since overall revenues are anticipated to continue to drop. However, Commissioner Javier Souto (Net worth $856,000) said this kind of internal manipulation of the approved budget was out of hand and believes the “tweaking” by the administration was becoming excessive and taking that authority from the commission.
>>> The commission had a discussion of a Miami Herald www.miamiherald.com article concerning a new large cruise ship being berthed at Port of Ft. Lauderdale and county manager George Burgess said it was continuing “the status quo” of the business and the faculties at both ports. He believes both facilities have there own strengths and the portrayal of one port as a winner and the other a loser and “at the Port of Miami’s expense.” He said that characterization was “not right.”
>>> Press release: GREATER MIAMI CHAMBER OF COMMERCE ANNOUNCES WINNERS OF NINTH ANNUAL NONPROFIT NOVO AWARDS
The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s Nonprofit Business Committee presented the ninth annual NOVO Awards today at Jungle Island during the Chamber’s monthly Trustee Luncheon. The NOVO Awards honor nonprofit business innovative excellence in two categories – nonprofits with a budget of $2 million and above and those with a budget of less than $2 million. In the $2 million and above budget category, the NOVO Award was presented to United HomeCare Services–TeleHealth Monitoring Services. Founded by United Way in 1974, United HomeCare Services provides community-based healthcare solutions to help older and disabled adults live at home independently. TeleHealth Monitoring Services provides hospital-grade wireless remote monitoring devices that take vital sign measurements, as needed or recommended by their physician. This information is then transmitted to a central station nurse who reviews the data, identifies appropriate action, provides at home visits if needed and communicates with the client’s physician or caregiver. This program decreased the number of patients hospitalized by 58 percent and number of days hospitalized by 72 percent.
In the under $2 million budget category, the NOVO Award was presented to Human Services Coalition–The Prosperity Campaign. Founded in 1995, Human Services Coalition monitors changes in health and human service delivery, provides information and mobilizes public planning and response. The organization’s mission is to empower individuals and communities to create a more just society through engagement, economic fairness and access to vital services. The Prosperity Campaign serves low to moderate-income individuals and families, addressing their financial needs and helping them build a secure financial future. It connects them to existing economic benefits and financial literacy programs that help them improve their standard of living. Since 2002, the program has prepared 12,715 tax returns totaling $13,488,374 in federal returns, which translates to an economic impact of a minimum of $139 million for Miami.
The Chamber also recognized the following finalists in the $2 million and above budget category — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami, Inc.–School to Work; and Community Smiles–Improving Smiles; under $2 million budget category: Overtown Youth Center, Inc. — Youth Development Program; and PanZOu Project, Inc.–Gang Prevention and Intervention Program. >>> The 2010 NOVO Awards were made possible by Gold Sponsors: Compuquip Technologies, Inc. and Wachovia, A Wells Fargo Company; Award Sponsors: Health Foundation of South Florida and Tropical Financial Credit Union; and Supporting Sponsor: Terremark Worldwide, Inc. >>>For information about the NOVO Awards or to apply for next year’s awards contact Jennifer Sanchez, 305-577-5451 or email@example.com.
>>> Geller and Gunzburger will face off for commission Dist. 6 seat; voters should expect political fireworks
Let the political battle begin for the seat held by Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger (net worth $1.34 million) for the past decade now that former state Sen. Steve Geller (Net worth $1.24 million) a long term serving Democrat has announced he is sticking in the 2010 race. There had been speculation that Geller might run for the open commission seat being vacated by Commissioner Diana Wasserman Rubin after her recent announcement she would not run in again because of a medical illness www.miamiherald.com . Geller, a high-powered attorney/lobbyist in his spare time has been out of office since 2008 when he was termed out, both he and Gunzburger are seasoned campaigners, and this race is expected to become politically brutal in the months ahead. Since the county commission races are partisan, one of the two will face any Republican contender in November. However, Broward is heavily Democratic and whoever wins in the Aug. 24 primary is expected to coast to victory in November.
>>> PBA contractor sentenced for tax fraud
Press release: Jeffrey H. Sloman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Daniel W. Auer, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, announced that defendant John A. Gullett, of Parkland, FL, was sentenced today before U.S. District Court Judge William P. Dimitrouleas to 51 months of imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Gullett was ordered to pay restitution of $255,000 to the Internal Revenue Service. On January 22, 2010, Gullett was convicted following a jury trial of four counts of filing a false tax return. According to the four-count criminal Indictment and evidence introduced at trial, Gullett knowingly and willfully subscribed to false Form 1040 Individual Income Tax Returns, statements, and documents for tax years 2002 through 2005. Gullett under-reported his gross receipts from 2002 through 2005, and filed the tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service knowing that the returns contained materially false information, in violation of Title 26, United States code, Section 7206(1).
According to statements made in court and evidence presented during the trial, Gullet contracted with the Broward County Police Benevolent Association (BCPBA) and the Dade County Police Benevolent Association (DCPBA) to solicit local businesses to buy advertisements in a book that Gullett published listing local businesses. The book was distributed to PBA members. In exchange, Gullett paid BCPBA and DCPBA between $3,000 and $5,000 per month and kept whatever funds he raised in excess of these amounts. Defendant Gullett failed to report approximately $3 million of income received from this operation from 2002 through 2005. Gullett used these monies to purchase a personal residence in Parkland, FL, and various luxury automobiles, including two Ferraris and a Lamborghini. Mr. Sloman commended the investigative efforts of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bertha R. Mitrani. >>> A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.
>>> Thank you for using the Broward County Commission Agenda E-mail Notification System. A new Broward County Commission Agenda is available. Point your browser to http://www.broward.org/commission/welcome.htm to view the new agenda.
PALM BEACH COUNTY
>>> Press release: County woman charged with preparing fraudulent income tax returns
Jeffrey H. Sloman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Daniel W. Auer, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, today announced the arrest and unsealing of an indictment against defendant Marvel Ebanks, of West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach, and unincorporated Palm Beach County, on twenty-two counts of assisting and advising in the preparation and presentation of fraudulent income tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in violation of Title 26 U.S.C. § 7206(2). Ebanks is being detained pending a pre-trial detention hearing, scheduled for Friday, April 16, 2010 before Magistrate Judge Linnea R. Johnson. The indictment alleges that Ebanks owned and operated Marvelous Enterprises Inc, a tax return preparation business located in Palm Beach County, Florida. Ebanks operated her business from her various residences in Palm Beach County. The indictment further alleges that Ebanks prepared and caused to be submitted Individual Income Tax Returns claiming tax refunds on behalf of various taxpayers, knowing that these returns contained materially false information. Specifically, Ebanks claimed nonexistent expenses or inflated itemized deductions making it appear that the taxpayers would be due a larger tax refund than was allowed from the IRS. The taxpayers were typically only sent the signature page of their returns and were unaware of the false information that Ebanks used to inflate their refunds.
If convicted, the maximum statutory term of imprisonment is 3 years as to each of the preparation and presentation of fraudulent income tax return counts. Mr. Sloman commended the investigative efforts of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Emalyn Webber. An indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.
>>> Press release: Two sentenced after three county car chase in Nov. 2009
Jeffrey H. Sloman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Anthony V. Mangione, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), James K. Loftus, Director, Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD), John T. Czernis, Director, Florida Highway Patrol (“FHP”), and Roberto Fulgueira, Chief, Sweetwater Police Department, announced yesterday’s sentencing of two defendants involved in a drug trafficking conspiracy on November 24, 2009 that resulted in the assault on federal officers. On April 8, 2010, United States District Court Judge K. Michael Moore sentenced the defendants, Orenthal Marcel Butler, 24, and Solvin Bowie-Forbes, 44, both of Clearwater, Florida, to terms of imprisonment of 420 (35 years) and 108 months (9 years), respectively. Butler pled guilty on January 7, 2010 to one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute four kilograms of cocaine, one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and one count of assaulting a federal officer with a deadly weapon. Bowie-Forbes pled guilty on January 12, 2010 to one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute four kilograms of cocaine.
According to the factual proffer submitted at the defendants’ change of plea hearings, on November 24, 2009, the defendants agreed to purchase four kilograms of cocaine at $21,000 per kilogram from undercover agents they believed to be drug dealers. Once Butler showed the undercover the money with which he intended to buy the cocaine, surveilling agents arrested Bowie-Forbes without incident. According to the factual proffer, however, as ICE agents and officers of the MDPD attempted to arrest Butler, Butler fled in his white Mazda, leading them on a high-speed, three-county car chase. The chase ended when Butler, traveling at approximately 130 mph, crashed into a black F-150 truck, collided against the metal barrier along the east side of the highway, crashed against the concrete wall along the west side of the highway, and finally came to a stop just north of the 45th Street overpass in Palm Beach County.
Butler, who was unharmed, was immediately taken into custody by troopers of the FHP. In a search incident to his arrest, officers found, in Butler’s pocket, a wad containing $4,210 in cash. Butler consented to a search of his vehicle where officers recovered, in the rear passenger seat, one blue gym bag containing approximately $83,830 in cash. The factual proffer further states that, after Butler’s arrest, a civilian resident of Livingston, Texas, who had seen the car chase on CNN Headline News, called the MDPD and reported that, during the chase, Butler had tossed what appeared to be a gun from the passenger’s side window of the speeding car. Based on the information provided by the concerned citizen, the police recovered a loaded, .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol from the side of the road. >>> The indictment was the culmination of a two-week investigation by ICE’s Office of Investigations in Miami and the MDPD, with assistance from the Sweetwater Police Department and the FHP. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Roy Altman. A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.
>>> Press release: Governor Charlie Crist today appointed Robert R. “Rob” Wheeler of Tallahassee to the Leon County Court.
“Rob’s patience, insight and careful consideration will make him a fair and unbiased judge, and I am confident he will respectfully hear and regard every case that comes before him,” Governor Crist said. “His 21 years of practicing law, in both the private and public sectors, ensure his ability to make reasoned decisions in a timely manner and in accordance with the law.” Wheeler, 46, has served as general counsel for Governor Crist since June 2009 and as assistant general counsel beginning in January 2007. Previously, after 10 years of private practice, he served in the criminal appeals division of the Office of the Attorney General since 1998, beginning as an assistant attorney general in the Palm Beach office. In 2000, he relocated to Tallahassee and became bureau chief of the division in 2003. Wheeler received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a law degree from the University of Florida. “”I am grateful for the opportunity to serve on the bench of the county court, which serves as ‘The People’s Court’ and provides citizens the right to be heard fairly and with respect,” said Wheeler. “I am committed to working hard for the people of Leon County in this capacity.” Wheeler will fill the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge James O. Shelfer to the Second Judicial Circuit.
MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
>>> District opens new TERRA Environmental Research Institute April 21
Press release: NEWS RELEASE FROM ANA RIVAS LOGAN -April 8, 2010 – WHO: School Board Member Ana Rivas Logan, representatives from District and regional administration, students and parents WHAT:SAVE THE DATE! -TERRA Environmental Research Institute Dedication ceremony – WHEN: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 – 10 a.m. WHERE: 11005 S.W. 84 St., Miami, FL. 33173 – WHY: TERRA Environmental Research Institute is the District’s first green school. The school showcases the District’s commitment to eco-friendly practices. Environmental principles are incorporated into the school’s curriculum and construction. The new magnet school’s innovations include utilizing the condensation from the air conditioning units to water plants, water faucets on 20-second timers, bathroom facilities that use less water and lights on motion sensors.
PUBLIC HEALTH TRUST
>>> Vice Chair Medina says there was no attempt to “restrict access” for attendees at the Ad Hoc Financial Sustainability Restructuring Committee
Angel Medina, Jr. the vice chair of the PHT board and chairs the subcommittee that is dealing with the restructure whose meeting locations I criticized for being in a smaller conference room in the DTC responded back last week. Medina a long serving member of the 17-member board and a former banker wrote back, “I hear you. I have always been about transparency and have no reason to want to restrict access. Frankly, I thought that there would be less staff than the numbers that [do] show up. Your point is well taken-heard and [I] will address accordingly. Thank you for your support and concern for Jackson, wrote Medina.
What about where these sunshine meetings are being held?
The Watchdog Report has covered the PHT since 1998 and during this time the organization has its up and downs when it comes to the press coverage it has gotten over the years. However, the health trust at this juncture should error on the side of more public access to meetings and using a small meeting room at the Ira C. Clark Diagnostic Treatment Center for a committee chaired by Vice Chair Angel Medina, Jr. this Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. is the wrong way to go. Further, efforts should be made to facilitate the press getting access into the medical complex at such an early hour if one of the media is not to make a Sunshine violation complaint that recently got a state attorney’s attention in Broward County and Gov. Charlie Crist suspended two municipal commissioners last week.
>>> Press release: Ad Hoc Financial Sustainability Restructuring Committee – Angel Medina, Jr., Jorge L. Arrizurieta, Ernesto A. de la Fe, Marcos J. Lapciuc Martin G. Zilber — Please be advised that all future meetings of the Ad Hoc Financial Sustainability Restructuring Committee will be held from 8:00 a.m. to
10:00 a.m. in the West Wing Board Room. See future meeting dates below: Wednesday, April 14, 2010; Wednesday, April 21; Wednesday, April 28; Wednesday, May 5, Wednesday, May 12; Wednesday, May 19, Wednesday May 26; Wednesday, June 2.
>>> April 12th, Jackson North Financial Sustainability Advisory Board Meeting, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., JNMC, 2nd FL Auditorium, 160 N.W. 170th Street, North Miami Beach, FL
>>> This is why I have been doing the Watchdog Report for almost 11-years
Since May of 2000, I have been covering the PHT in all its aspects over the years and its financial challenges since then have never been far below the surface of any story over this time. In 2004, I ran the headline about the $84 million charge the organization was having to take for the year and the numbers in many ways never got that much better, week after week, month after month, to where we are today. Some of the county commissioners are carping about all the sudden press and media attention the hospital system with 12,000 employees is getting but that is what happens in Florida where the state sunshine and open records laws makes all these activities public events. However, the commissioners should also be asking why they and the Fourth Estate did not kick in earlier to alert South Florida of the pending financial train wreck. The chronic problem was apparent to anyone that read the Watchdog Report over the decade, but in many ways, my role seems to be of Cassandra for we, as a community did not necessarily have to be where we are today, if corrective action had occurred years ago.
>>> PAST Dec: 2005 WDR: Overall cash balances climb to $400 million but trust gets hit with $8.5 million in hurricane loses
The PHT financials continue to get moderately better after the health trust closed the year at the end of September with an $800,000 surplus after five years in the red. The health trust with a $1.5 billion budget over the years has been dealing with an antiquated billing and information technology system, cuts in Medicaid funding, and unfunded county mandates that are now dropping to about $5 million a month as the county reassumes some of the costs for correctional health care service and county nursing homes.
However, with 10,300 employee’s cash is king within the institution after hitting a low of only 18 days of cash in October 2004 but that position has improved. Currently the health trust has more cash on hand since September of 2001 and in total. It is about $400 million but that includes restricted monies, and other cash that is limited to use. Further, the recent hurricane season took its toll on the health trust and the numbers are coming in. PHT documents state hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma cost the organization $7.47 million in salaries and related costs. Total non-labor costs came to another $1 million for a total hit to the PHT of $8.5 million for this year’s hurricane season.
CITY OF MIAMI
>>> Atty. Bru takes a 17 % cut in salary, total savings across board $176,000 over next two-years, says Suarez after negotiations
Commissioner Francis Suarez turned in a solid review of the city Attorney Julie O. Bru’s compensation after being assigned the project by Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff. Suarez, an attorney was able to get concessions from Bru given the city’s tough economic state and is a start at bring down some administrative staff salary costs. The city attorney took a 17 percent cut in her $274,000 salary that will now come in at $228,000. She also is taking a $31,000 cut in vacation and sick time available for payout and another $19,000 of accrued payouts were eliminated. A worksheet Suarez gave to the Watchdog Report Thursday during a commission meeting shows there will be $176,000 savings under these new terms over a two-year contract term.
>>> Press release: City of Miami Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II, will present his first State of the District Address entitled: A New Vision for District 5 “ Building Bridges One Block at a Time” on Monday, April 12, 2010 at Charles Hadley Park Black Box Theater located at 1300 N.W. 50th Street. The District 5 Address will start promptly at 12 Noon and is free and open to the public.
Commissioner Dunn was appointed to the City of Miami Commission, on January 26, 2010, to represent District 5, which includes Overtown, Liberty City, Little Haiti, Buena Vista and Wynwood. During his speech, the commissioner will outline his vision and goals for District 5 and address key topics such as: job development, economic development, crime reduction and affordable green housing. City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado will attend the State of the District Address along with other City and County Commissioners, community leaders and District 5 residents. For more information, contact the Office of Commissioner Dunn at (305) 250-5390. Who: City of Miami Commissioner Richard P. Dunn, II., What: State of the District Address, When: Monday, April 12, 2010 at 12:00 Noon, Where: Charles Hadley Park Black Box Theater, 1300 N.W. 50th Street.
>>> The following e-mail was sent to (now former) Mayor Manny Diaz using his e-mail address on his extensive city web-page on Sept. 13, 2008 at 9:38 a.m. and to date there has been no answer from the mayor.>>> “Mayor Diaz, I wanted to ask you in the chamber today but not in front of Chair Joe Sanchez. My question is where did the extra $400,000 in the 2007 disclosure form come from? I will run what ever you respond unedited but I would appreciate closing this issue, as I am sure you do. Sorry but I have to ask. Best to all. Dan” >>>> The Watchdog Report through Dec.7 has yet to get a response or catch-up with Miami Mayor Manuel Diaz on where he got the extra $400,000 in cash listed in his 2007 financial disclosure forms. To see what CBS 4 reporter David Sutta’s take on this issue and the other city leaders financial disclosures go to cbs4.com Blogs . >>> Readers should stay tuned and catch the meeting on the city’s cable station channel 77. >>> Stream Channel 77, for all City of Miami meetings, (Commission, Village Council meetings, Waterfront, Zoning, PAB, Code, etc. hearings) http://videos.miamigov.com/
CITY OF MIAMI BEACH
>>> State prisoners spotted cleaning-up causeway, shows financial state of Florida
With the Florida economy down in the dumps the Watchdog Report on Friday saw something I may have missed in the past. I traveled across Macarthur Causeway and near the Fisher Island Ferry entrance were state workers, but they were prison inmates doing roadwork and landscaping. It caught my eye because normally you see these details along the larger highways and the turnpike, but their use visually shows the financial straits of the Sunshine State. Ironically, the use of the chain gang gained prominence in the mid 1990s when then state Sen. Charlie Crist sponsored the legislation and got him the moniker of “Chain Gang Charlie.”
>>> Press release: Who: Miami Beach Vice Mayor Jerry Libbin is having another beach cleanup with Commissioner Gongora, Ecomb, Surfrider Foundation, Sofi K-9, Smith & Wollensky and Marriott South Beach plus many other volunteer organizations. What: The Beach Cleanup will target South of Fifth street beach areas and South Pointe. Where: Volunteers will meet on 2nd Street and Ocean Drive (Marjory Stoneman Douglas Park) When: Saturday, April 24th at 10:00 a.m. lunch will be provided to all who rsvp. Rsvp to Enid at Commissioner Libbin’s office (305) 673 7000×6722 or firstname.lastname@example.org
>>> Brilliance on the Beach* Thursday, April 15 and Friday April 16, Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, 2000 Convention Center Drive 305.673.7256 www.mbgarden.org Arts for Learning presents an exhibition of student artwork created at garden classes as well as performances and art integrated learning units created by Miami Beach teachers.
>>> LOX WITH BLACK BEANS & RICE: PORTRAITS OF CUBAN JEWS IN SOUTH FLORIDA* Opens April 27, 2010, Jewish Museum of Florida, 301 Washington Ave. 305.672.5044 www.jewishmuseum.com The photographs by Randi Sidman-Moore include brief oral histories of Cuban Jews. They reflect the daily lives and life and holiday cycles rituals of a people and how they are different or similar to the larger society. These “Jewbans” are examples of diversity within one cultural landscape.
CITY OF DORAL
>>> Clerk Herrera and others get ethics advocate warning letter, after Rubio fundraiser e-mail
City of Doral Clerk Barbara Herrera got a wake-up call March 19 after she received a letter from the county’s ethics commission advocate concerning “allegations” that a city e-mail list was used to promote a fundraiser for former state Rep. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, now a U.S. senate candidate facing off against Gov. Charlie Crist in the Aug 24, closed Republican primary. As the Michael Murawski letter notes, this kind of activity of a public office, supporting a candidate, is a no-no and why the Watchdog Report made a big deal about it last week when a Miami Beach city employee did a variation of this, though not for a political candidate.
>>> Here is the letter: March 19, 2010, Barbara Herrera, City Clerk, City of Doral Re: Use of City resources for political campaigns — Dear Ms. Herrera, Mayor and Council
I am writing to you with the hope that this letter will serve as a guideline for you and other municipal government officials to prevent the possibility of ethical transgressions in the future. Recently, my office received some information alleging that the City of Doral’s e-mail system was used to disseminate invitations to a campaign related function for Senate candidate Marco Rubio.
The Ethics Commission recently opined that the Mayor of Miami-Dade County was prohibited from endorsing a judicial candidate using County stationary. The Ethics Commission reasoned that while the Mayor was free to personally endorse whomever he pleased, he could not create the impression that the County endorsed the candidate. The Ethics Commission used the same analysis to conclude that the Mayor could not disseminate, through the County e-mail system, a political endorsement that he received from the Firefighters Union and the Police Benevolent Association. We also advised a former City of Homestead Mayor that she could not utilize the City e-mail system to invite people to a Mario Diaz-Balart fundraiser.
The Ethics Commission has deemed the dissemination of political e-mails through a government e-mail network as violative of the Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics ordinance. For future reference, be advised that it could be considered an exploitation of official position to disseminate political campaign material using City resources (i.e. e-mail) or utilize tax payers money to create political advertisements for a third party. If you are ever in doubt as to the propriety of any official action, I urge you all to contact my office or request an opinion from the Ethics Commission. If you have any further questions or need any other information please do not hesitate to call me at (305) 350-0609 or e-mail me at email@example.com, wrote Murawski with a copy to Doral attorney, former county Commissioner Jimmy Morales.
>>> Friends of the Japanese Gardens and the City of Miami Department of Parks and Recreation Present — HARU MATSURI (Spring Festival)
Sunday, April 25th, 2010 from 10:00am – 5:00pm the public is invited to the Ichimura Miami-Japan Garden on Watson Island for their annual Spring Festival (HARU MATSURI). Event organizers Ms. Agnes Youngblood and Ms. Connie Stieger state, “This is a wonderful event that offers something for every member of the family. It is a nice way for a family to spend a Sunday afternoon together.” Musical entertainment will be provided by the exciting FUSHU DAIKO Drummers, Koto musician, Yoshiko Carlton and Japanese Flute musician, Marc Berner. Attendees may participate in classes featuring Japanese folk crafts, cooking, Japanese Calligraphy, Origami, Bonsai, Ikebana and the Martial Arts. All events are FREE! Lunch and drinks will be available for purchase. >>> Ichimura Miami-Japan Garden is located at 1101 MacArthur Causeway Adjacent to JUNGLE ISLAND. Parking: Public Parking Lot across from the entrance to the Garden or in the Jungle Island Parking Building. >>> For membership, please inquire at the reception table. This event is sponsored by the City of Miami Department of Parks and Recreation and the Friends of the Japanese Garden. For more information, please contact: Agnes Youngblood at 305-858-5016 or 786-457-6446
>>> PAST WDR: OCT 2005: What is it about some people in Miami-Dade who believe only they should serve on a board or in a position?
Miami-Dade County with 2.3 residents seems to have a few people that consistently believe only they have the Holy Grail of truth and knowledge when it comes to being on different public boards and that is wrong. I see so many of the same people who believe only they should serve the public in these capacities, sometimes enhancing their role and capabilities and many advisory or oversight boards end up with the usual community suspects versus what this community needs so bad, new blood and new ideas. It is fascinating watching some boards blow up, or see ongoing personality clashes among board members many times brought on from disputes years ago but this does not serve the community interest. South Florida has changed markedly over the past decade and public boards should reflect these changes for the community is moving forward not looking only at its past.
Mega builder Armando Codina had the right idea when he took over as chair of the board of Florida International University years ago. At the time, he said he would step down and leave after his term, which is what he did. He could have said he had changed his mind, the university needed his steady hand on the tiller and stayed but he understood that you serve and do your duty but then leave. People who apply for these public oversight boards should keep that in mind for these positions are not for life and if there is one thing I have learned over the last decade watching this community. It is that change is good and people serving should remember that being in an elected office or on a public board is not a right but a privilege, a belief that sometimes gets lost with some of the giant egos some board members bring to public service.
>>> PAST WDR 2005: Government courtesy dashboards given to civilians on community boards should not be abused for they also can be a government liability if something happens
Courtesy government dashboard plates that are given to civilians on city or county boards need to be monitored for they are seen all over the place, being used for parking or other perks throughout Miami-Dade County. Over the past weeks, I have seen many upscale cars ranging from a BMW Z-4 and Mercedes Benz 500SL driving down Bayshore Drive or parking at up scale restaurants and there on these peoples dash board is a official city plate saying the car and occupant are on official city business. The people that get this perk are supposed to use them only when they are participating at a board event, not 24/7 and that is the problem. They do sign a form that tells them how to use the plates and that they still must pay the parking meter, but that seems to have gotten lost in the translation.
Further, many of these people are given official city or county identification allowing them to enter government buildings without going through the checkpoint, versus what the Watchdog Report goes through at the city of Miami’s security checkpoint at city hall. After a critical story of Manager Joe Arriola and his temper. I now get patted down. The Watchdog Report in the future is going to do a public records request with the City of Miami General Service Administration to find out who has these plates, and I will watch how they are being used. For a civilian that is a quasi government employee raises a number of issues, and concerns about the city’s liabilities and that new variable is the last thing the new Miami needs.
>>> Re GOP party mess; thank you for your kind words, I hope that you are feeling better
>>> Hope you are feeling better.
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The Watchdog Report covers a few of the meetings attended weekly. It remains my belief that an informed public will make better decisions. Therefore, I go to meetings, make the presence of an informed citizen known, and bring the information to you. The Watchdog Report is in the fourth year of publication and it has been an honor to be able to send this information to you. It is sent to readers in Miami-Dade, Florida, the U.S. and the world. The Watchdog Report is sent to thousands free and while readers have been prodded to subscribe the results have been mixed. Over 250 reports and Extra’s have been sent since May 5, 2000 and over one million words have been written on our community’s governments and events. The report is an original work based on information gathered at public meetings, interviews and from documents in the public domain.
I welcome letters via e-mail, fax, or snail mail. Letters may be edited for length or clarity and must refer to material published in the Watchdog Report. Please see address and contact information. Please send any additions and corrections by e-mail, fax or snail mail. All corrections will be published in the next Watchdog Report. If you or your organization would like to publish the contents of this newsletter, please contact me. Please send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel A. Ricker
Publisher & Editor
Copyright © of original material, 2009, Daniel A. Ricker
>>> Watchdog Report is expanding as a new service and this content is now available to other news media, no longer exclusive to The Miami Herald
The Watchdog Report is no longer exclusively with The Miami Herald, and excluding the one story a week that is printed in the paper on Monday in the Metro & State section by me. The rest of the 20 or so news stories weekly sent out Sunday in the Watchdog Report are now available to television stations web pages, and all the newspapers and other media in South Florida if the publishers have an interest to run part or all of the stories. Further, in 2000, I used to have some paper’s running the report in the Spanish press, that option is available again, and publishers should contact me. The news content will not be free, but you can pick and chose the stories of interest, edit them if necessary but you must still keep the general story intact. If you are a news outlet and would like to learn more about, the Watchdog Report and this offer contact me at email@example.com for further information.
>>> Here is what past newspapers have written about the Watchdog Report publisher including a survey and regional study done by the U. North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the media in the southeast United States.
>>> The Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel & Sun-Sentinel articles on the Watchdog Report publisher over the years.
Published on September 9, 1999, Page 1EA, Miami Herald, The (FL) CITIZEN ADVOCATE’ KEEPS TABS ON POLITICIANS
Published on January 3, 2000, Page 1B, Miami Herald, The (FL) MIAMI-DADE WATCHDOG WILL BE MISSED
Published on January 20, 2003, Page 1E, Orlando Sentinel, PAPERWORK TIGER, Miami’s citizen watchdog piles up government files in his quest to keep the “little people” informed.
>>>Watchdog Report publisher named ‘Best Citizen’ 2003 by the Miami New Times —The publisher would like to thank the weekly alternative paper Miami New Times for bestowing their 2003 Best of Miami, ‘Best Citizen’ award to me and I am honored. Thank you. To read the full story go to http://www.miaminewtimes.com/issues/2003-05-15/citylife2.html/1/index.html
From the spring of 2003: U. North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Southeast U.S. Media Report lists Watchdog Report publisher as leading Florida commentator >>> Selected excerpts from the report on Florida’s media sources
Those who do read the newspaper in Florida have a bevy of options for state government and political coverage. The dominant newspapers in the state are Knight-Ridder’s The Miami Herald (Acquired by The McClatchy Company in 2006) and the Poynter Institute’s St. Petersburg Times. Both papers endorsed Gore in 2000 but split on the 2002 gubernatorial race, with the Herald endorsing Republican incumbent Jeb Bush and the Times backing Democratic challenger Bill McBride.
Daniel Ricker of The Miami Herald also writes an influential column as well as an email newsletter called the Watchdog Report that goes out to more than 100,000 subscribers. FEBRUARY 2004 – Florida: Columnists in Abundance —ERIC GAUTSCHI, graduate student, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, UNC-Chapel Hill – D) LEADING COMMENTATORS – Resource Commentator Organization Type Web site –Steve Bousquet St. Petersburg Times Column www.sptimes.com/columns/bousquet.shtml -“First Friday” WPBT TV (Miami) TV Show www.channel2.org/firstfriday/issues.html –Lucy Morgan St. Petersburg Times Column www.sptimes.com/columns/morgan.shtml –Daniel Ricker Miami Herald/Watchdog Report Newsletter –www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/columnists/dan_ricker/ >>> Readers who would like to read the complete University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Southeast United States Media Report go to view the complete report or download all the data used in this study. >>> Watchdog Report Editor’s note to the NCU/CH study: The subscriber number referenced is incorrect and applies to readership.